Following multiversal incidents in Spider-Man: No Way Home, What If?, and Loki, as well as horror fans being promised the first “official” MCU horror film; Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness remained one of the most anticipated Marvel Studios films since Avengers: Endgame.
And that anticipation only grew with the inclusion of Scarlet Witch (fresh off WandaVision) and Sam Raimi back in the director’s chair for the first time since 2013’s Oz the Great and Powerful. Is this truly a horror film? Does Sam Raimi deliver after a nearly decade-long hiatus from directing films? Does the movie get lost in its own fan service at the expense of story and character arcs? The answer to the first two is yes, and to the third, maybe a little…
Multiverse of Madness
We open with Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) waking up from a terrible nightmare. However, the real world for him is just as painful as it’s Christine’s (Rachel McAdams) wedding day. And while he politely attends to support her, the pain and regret of their failed relationship still haunts him.
The reception is interrupted as a giant beast ravages the city, in pursuit of a teenage girl America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez). Dr. Strange manages to save her and discovers that she’s being pursued by incredibly dark forces due to her ability to travel between universes. What follows is a trippy journey across the multiverse itself with Strange going to some very dark and disturbing places.
We’ve seen characters travel from other universes to ours in media like No Way Home, and got a taste of what the multiverse had to offer in What If? But that was all just prepping us for everything that this movie had to offer.
And first and foremost, one of its greatest strengths is its amazing visual set pieces. The production design, art direction, and visual effects are absolutely stunning in this film, and it might be the best-looking MCU movie to date (from a visual perspective).
It’s quite fitting that Doctor Strange’s sequel be a horror film considering the first movie was brought to us by a bona fide master of horror, Scott Derrickson (The Exorcism of Emily Rose, Sinister, Deliver Us From Evil). So as a diehard horror fan, it was admittedly disappointing when it was announced that Derrickson left the project for “creative differences”. The rumors were that he wanted to make it too dark.
After seeing what Sam Raimi did with the finished film however, horror fans have absolutely nothing to worry about. Along with Guillermo Del Toro (Blade II, Hellboy, Crimson Peak, Nightmare Alley) and James Gunn (Slither, Super, Guardians of the Galaxy, The Suicide Squad), Sam Raimi is one of the very few directors who truly understands both comic book superhero films as well as supernatural horror. Between this movie’s tone, atmosphere, and darker elements, you can really tell this is the same man who created Evil Dead.
Multiverse of Madness features jump scares, incredibly dark subject matter (demons, witchcraft, the souls of the damned), and in several scenes it relishes in suspense and dread. We get great action pieces with impressive CGI and practical stunt work, but it’s all paced like a horror movie when a monster or killer preys upon terrified victims. There’s even a few shots reminiscent of the “demon POV” that Raimi made famous in the original Evil Dead.
For those who are uninitiated in horror and solely accustomed to bright and fun Marvel movies, they may actually get scared a few times in this movie. And speaking as a diehard horror fan, that’s incredibly amusing to imagine.
While we do get our share of fan service, the movie never forgets its main character and his arc. It’s interesting because we’ve seen Dr. Strange many times since his first movie, but in Thor: Ragnarok, Infinity War, Endgame, and No Way Home, he’s only ever a supporting character and doesn’t ever really have an arc. Nor do those movies really have the time to focus on him.
And at the heart of this film is the question he asks himself of whether or not he’s happy. Strange’s journey across the multiverse forces him to confront his own demons, and see other versions of himself and how easy it was for them to go down very dark paths. We’ve seen Benedict Cumberbatch play the character so many times, but this is the first movie since his 2016 origin story that really gives him the room and time to shine.
We very much get the same from Elizabeth Olsen’s Wanda. She’s a character that’s lost absolutely everything and now lives with that sorrow and guilt over having to kill the love of her life, as well as holding an entire town hostage. Olsen gives a stellar performance and provides a great foil to Cumberbatch’s Dr. Strange.
Honestly, the only character that didn’t get the same attention is newcomer America Chavez. We get a bit of her backstory, and she’s on her own journey to try and control her powers. But with everything else going on, the movie sadly didn’t have time to really expand on her character too much. She’s the one being pursued, and at times this results in her feeling like a MacGuffin rather than an actual character. But perhaps this won’t be the last we see of her in the MCU.
Overall Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness boasts an incredibly visual style, satisfying scares, and a poignancy in terms of character growth that we haven’t seen from the good doctor since his first movie. It’s a welcome return of Sam Raimi to two genres that he’s had a massive impact on for decades!
What did you think of Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness? Do you hope to see more straight up horror movies in the MCU? Let us know in the comments!